If the board game Monopoly didn’t warn its players of the evils of capitalism enough (as it originally intended to do), then Nova Alea certainly tries harder. Developed by Pittsburg-based game designer and teacher Paolo Pedercini, Nova Alea is a simple yet informative game that strives to instruct its players about the effects of boom and bust culture in relation to the housing market.
In the game, users are required to buy property when prices are low and sell just before the “bubble bursts.” Set on a rotating square grid, various forms rise as their value grows, only to to disappear when the market shifts. On the surface, the aim of the game is to accrue as much profit as possible through buying and selling at the right times. However, shortly after this brief introductory period of the game’s basic principles, players are made aware of the consequences of their profiteering actions.
Once a resident of Brooklyn and now living in the up-and-coming Garfied area of Pittsburg, Pedercini is well versed in the effects of runaway housing markets. In fact, it was his experience that was the source of Nova Alea’s inspiration. Pedercini also wanted to offer something different compared to the likes of SimCity, giving the chance for players to deal with the social implications of unrestricted development while also providing a lens to see how contemporary cities and districts are developing and urbanizing. It is cast in a similar vein to the likes of other recent games like Block’hood, where players are faced with the inconvenient negative effects of what they choose to build.
“Impossible prices drove old residents away and drained the ones who couldn’t leave,” a voice says, speaking over the background music as the game continues. “Neighborhoods that made Nova Alea unique were replaced with dull repositories of wealth.” Now the theme of gentrification has been established, the voice goes on to implicitly introduce hipsters into the fray. “But in the craters left by the cyclical crisis, the Weird Folk settled.” Denoted as green pulsating forms that attract “animal spirits,” even the Weird Folk have to leave too, “displaced by the revitalization that they themselves started.” Now, however, Nova Alea’s habitats and habits have been reshaped, “making Nova Alea unrecognizable to its residents.”
The game’s narrator adds another dimension when it announces that a resident uprising has forced developers (i.e. you) to slow down. Later, price-controlled properties are introduced, meaning lower profit margins for property moguls such as yourself. As the games comes to a close the narrator proclaims that the Nova Alea has become a “city against its inhabitants. A place made and unmade by money where the delusion of wealth turned everyone into unwelcome strangers.”
Nova Alea is available to download for free on Mac, PC and Linux through the developer’s website here.